Eric July Responds To Good Shepherd Ministries Suing Him And Rippaverse Over Isom Trademark, Accuses Organization Of Attempting To Shake Him Down
Eric July issued a response to Berin Gilfillan and Good Shepherd Ministries after Gilfillan declared he would proceed with suing July and his comic book company Rippaverse over a trademark dispute concerning July’s Isom character. In his response July accused Gilfillan and Good Shepherd Ministries of attempting to shake him down.
Gilfillan outlined in a lengthy post to X that he and Good Shepherd Ministries would proceed with their lawsuit claiming that July was infringing on their Isom trademark and was damaging their business.
He specifically stated, “The CORE issue in this dispute is Trademark infringement. A basic test for trademark infringement is whether consumers are likely to be confused as to the source of the trademarked things – in other words, are consumers likely to think there is a connection between (1) Good Shepherd’s decades of using its ISOM trademark and Good Shepherd’s U.S. Registration of its ISOM trademark, and (2) Mr. July and his company starting a little over a year ago to use ISOM as the name of a graphic serial novel character. As mentioned below, we already are far past a “likelihood of confusion.” We have evidence that Mr. July and his company have caused actual confusion.”
It is with deep sadness that Good Shepherd Ministries, International (https://t.co/VonICcEIrQ) announces that its efforts to…
— Berin Gilfillan (@ceoisomorg) October 11, 2023
In response to this statement from Gilfillan, July issued his own statement on his YouTube channel describing the lawsuit as “baseless.”
July went on to state, “We were not in any communication with Good Shepherd or the International School of Ministry prior to the filing of the lawsuit. There were no obvious opportunities presented to engage in a good faith conversation before the lawsuit was filed about what’s being alleged. We were not made aware that the International School of Ministry had any issues with the Rippaverse until the lawsuit was filed. Not only did it make this ordeal public, but it was also news to us.”
He then added, “So if anybody alleges that Good Shepherd just wanted to get clarification, we find that filing a lawsuit is an interesting way to go about it. Despite all of this we still had no problems entering into a good faith discussion with the International School of Ministry.”
“If the main issue was centered around assuring there was distinction between the Rippaverse and the International School of Ministry we were open to negotiations,” July asserted. “We disagree that anyone would truly confuse a ministry and a comic book company or comic book character, but we were certainly open to hearing and addressing real concerns.”
“We had some settlement discussions,” July relayed. “And we thought that we were on track to finding a mutually beneficial solution, but we were blindsided when the International School of Ministry, a nonprofit, demanded profit from our company to be a part of the negotiation. And they wanted this to be perpetual. Again, this is shocking. The demand for our profits doesn’t seem to have much to do with the alleged concerns over confusion.”
“But even worse the International School of Ministry is demanding limits on our ability to create and that’s all we wanted to do as a company: build characters and create comic books. We want to give our customers a good time and we want them to have fun. In the words of Neil Gaiman, ‘We strive to make good art,'” he said.
July would then go on to reveal that his character of Isom aka Avery Silman is named after a number of his family members. Specifically, he details that the name Isom is “the first name of the second generation patriarch of my family, Isom Knox. He was born in 1851 in Arkansas. He’s my great, great, great grandfather.”
Next, July detailed that the surname Silman is his great, great, great grandmother’s maiden name. Her name being Mary Jane Silman. As for Avery, July revealed it’s “based on my great grandfather, Avery Knox, who was born in 1897 and is Isom’s grandson.”
He then detailed, “So this character’s first, last, and hero name are all based on real people that are my family members. The name Isom predates Good Shepherd in both my family and other instances, many other instances.”
July went on to reveal that he informed Gilfilland of this, “The sad part of this situation is that Dr. Gilfilland, Good Shepherd’s founder, personally asked me to explain this when I met with me, and I did. This was before they demanded a perpetual profit off of our work. A profit off of my effort to honor my family.”
He added, “They were unwilling to withdraw any monetary payment and we do not take those frivolous threats lightly.”
Moving on to the actual claim about the trademark dispute, July said, “Now, a trademark is connected to specific goods sold under the mark. Good Shepherd failed to accurately compare the relevant goods. The goods identified in their registration fall into distinct classes. Class 9 covers audio material and Class 16 covers print material. In their original letter to me, Class 9 is what Good Shepherd rely on, but that’s limited to audio material not comic book characters. So there’s some misidentification of the covered goods in the lawsuit as it was filed. That’s obviously a problem.”
“But they also are trying to expand the scope of the goods they claim are under this mark by claiming they are printing instructional, educational, and teaching materials all in the field of religion, which is a direct text from their registration, somehow could be confused with comic books,” he continued.
“But the worst part is that the ministry’s claimed goods involve religious content, not comic book characters,” he said. “Conveniently for them, the arguments broaden the scope of the goods that they claimed with the trademark office.”
July then detailed, “We do not sell audio or electronic books. We do not sell print material centered around religious, instructional content. Our industry is dominated by physical copies and that’s all we currently sell. But Good Shepherd is claiming that we sell many of the same types of goods and that’s nonsense.”
“They’re relying on the fact that our character has a cross on his belt,” he stated. “Good Shepherd does not own the rights to the use of a cross symbol. On top of that, claiming that there is overlap in the target market is flat out wrong. Good Shepherd identifies itself as the largest multi-denominational video-based Bible school in the world targeting Christians who seek to obtain training to bring forth the Word. This was stated by televangelist Marilyn Hickey and it’s on their website.
“We are a comic book company. We set out to entertain first and foremost,” July said. “The Rippaverse is not a ministry nor does anything that we do have faith-based instructional or training aspects. Maybe there will be some overlap if our business was like the International School of Ministry with Pastor Chris and Christ Embassy, or if we were the Illinois School of Ministry, or the Indiana School of Ministry, or the Islamic Society of Midwest. They all are specifically involved in faith and ministry. To our knowledge there aren’t any active trademark disputes between them and Good Shepherd.”
“The Rippaverse is not a religious organization,” he pointed out. “The individual religious beliefs of our employees and contractors are completely irrelevant to what we do. We have a public code of ethics and it says nothing about religion.”
“But we are a for-profit business and therefore have profit to plunder and that is what Good Shepherd has demanded,” July accused.
Later in the video, July explained how he and Rippaverse are still willing to come to “reasonable terms.” He said, “We aren’t impeding on their rights and these types of agreements to coexist peacefully are made by trademark attorneys every single day. Many times these are completed amicably without any money changing hands. This should not be difficult.”
“At some point Good Shepherd claimed that a forever license payment is required to protect their right,” July said. “That is simply not true. A perpetual license would tie the Rippaverse and Good Shepherd together forever. I thought that was specifically what Good Shepherd hoped to avoid?”
July then summarized, “So, let’s be clear here. We went into negotiations and there was no indication they wanted profit off of our business. This was a subversive strategy and it wasn’t until after the initial negotiations did they want perpetual payment.”
“We easily could have come up with an agreement where both parties coexist with no constant payment. This type of agreement is largely the norm.”
“Number two. This whole thing was initiated due to trolling,” July said. “Had their done their diligence they would know they were relying on false reports to initiate this very conflict. Good Shepherd saw this as a monetization opportunity and that would explain their lack of research.”
“Number three. Just as I explained to you all in this statement, we gave Good Shepherd the origin of the name Isom,” he went on. “They specifically asked for it and expressing this could assist the settlement process. That doesn’t seem to be the case, well, now they want to profit off of the name of great, great, great grandfather.”
“Number four. Good Shepherd was not open to compromise. They lauded greater demands as negotiations went on. This seems to create more conflict rather than resolve it,” he concluded.
What do you make of July’s response?